Alzheimer’s Tennessee, Inc. – Support, Education and Research for Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias
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Dementia: The Basics

Dementia: The Basics

Dementia is an “umbrella” medical term used to describe a set of symptoms causing a person to have changes in brain function that interfere with the ability to function and do everyday activities. Symptoms are typically caused by a disease, or condition, such as Alzheimer’s.

A person with dementia has problems in multiple areas of brain function. These problems can include; memory, language, impulse control, ability to do things for self, personality, understanding of time, etc.

Unlike normal age-related memory changes, dementia gets worse over time. Many diseases and disorders can cause dementia. Some can be reversed or cured and others cannot.  Reversible dementia symptoms include those caused by brain tumors, chronic alcohol abuse, poor nutrition, medication mismanagement and depression.

The most common irreversible cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Other common causes or types of dementia are:

    • Lewy body dementia
    • Frontotemporal dementia (FTD)
    • Vascular dementia (also called multi-infarct dementia)
    • Mixed dementia (more than one type of dementia occurring in the same brain)

Different types of dementia impact the brain in different ways, have different symptoms, cause changes in different abilities…in different orders…and at different rates.

How are Dementia and Alzheimer’s Different from “Normal Aging” and Forgetfulness?

Normal aging includes being more forgetful, taking longer to learn new information, requiring more practice to learn new skills or technologies (you can do it, just have to try harder than before), having more trouble recalling people’s names, and knowing the word you want but hesitating.

It is not uncommon to lose or forget things every now and then. But, if memory problems get in the way of everyday living, it may be time to call for more information or to see a doctor.

Note the differences between the Warning Signs and signs of “normal aging” on the Warning Signs (Symptoms) page.